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Court Dismisses $5 million Judgment Against Anti-Gay Protestors

(RNS) Members of Westboro Baptist Church, the anti-gay church that protests military funerals, won a court victory Thursday (Sept. 24) when a federal appeals court overturned a $5 million judgment against them.
The father of a Marine who was killed in Iraq in 2006 sued Westboro pastor Fred Phelps and members of his Topeka, Kan., church after they protested his son’s funeral with signs that said “Thank God for dead soldiers” and “God hates America.”
Judge Robert B. King of the 4th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., writing in the majority opinion, said the signs were “utterly distasteful” but addressed “matters of public concern.”
Rejecting the privacy arguments of Albert Snyder of York, Pa., King upheld the church’s free speech rights.
“Notwithstanding the distasteful and repugnant nature of the words being challenged in these proceedings, we are constrained to conclude that the defendants’ signs and (statements on the church’s Web site) are constitutionally protected,” King said.
The lawyer for Snyder said he will seek an appeal to the Supreme Court. He said he was disappointed that the appeals court focused on Westboro’s free speech rights rather than his client’s freedom of religion.
“After all, Mr. Snyder was just worshipping at his own church when they brought their circus to town and essentially disrupted a normal funeral service,” said Sean E. Summers.
In 2008, a U.S. district court lowered the judgment against the church from $10.9 million to $5 million.
Shirley Phelps-Roper, a defendant in the case, was thrilled with the appellate court’s decision.
“Our God is in charge of all of this operation and that lawsuit only has one function: It was to explode his word all over this globe,” she said. “That’s what it accomplished. Now the whole world is talking about our doctrine.”
As for an appeal, she added: “They’re never going to shut us up. Lots of luck.”
<emBy Adelle M. Banks
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

  • pagansister

    What a wonderful demonstration of Christian love…protesting at a dead soldier’s funeral, because the soldier was gay! That is absolutely disgusting. Shows a total lack of any, ANY humanity or caring for another human being. They want His love to Explode all over the globe? If what they think they did (and probaby still do) in demonstrating against a gay soldier’s funeral by shouting hateful things is right…they are sick, sick people.

  • Heretic_for_Christ

    It’s what I keep saying–fanatics cannot be stopped by outsiders. Only the rational people within a religion can muzzle the fanatics among them. I have been waiting with growing alarm as fanaticism accelerates worldwide and the rational people of each faith sheepishly hope someone else will do something about it.
    Listen up, rational religious people. There is no one else. Fanaticism is a cancer, and your faith is endangered far more by your own fanatics than by those other fanatics.

  • Mordred08

    “Only the rational people within a religion can muzzle the fanatics among them.”
    That would require more rational religious people to acknowledge that the fanatics exist.

  • Henrietta22

    The rational people of the Great Neck High School Community in Great Neck, L.I., NY used their heads to head-off the Hate Group of Westboro Church, Kansas on friday. They closed their H.S. two hours before the W.C. was supposed to rally in front of the school. The day before, they knew they were coming, they had a day of “Unity” teaching at the school; to explore topics such as racisim and hate speech: Their answer was counter ignorance with education, hate with love, and intolerace with tolerance. North Shore Hebrew Academy H.S. also left early to avoid their students from being exposed to this unpopulr Hate Group. They stood in front of Chabad of Great Neck Synagogue, five adults and two children spreading their LOVE, that’s what Shirley Phelps Roper says they are a LOVE GROUP, with signs saying “God Hates Jews”, “God Hates Israel”, “America is Doomed”, “God is your Enemy”, and other deroguatory terms for Homosexuals. They are just expressing their “Freedom of Hate Speech” in America, folks.

  • Tom

    Trying to reason with the Phelps clan has proved futile at best thus far. Many have tried, both Christians and non-Christians alike. Besides, I don’t even consider them Christian. Their so-called “doctrine” is scantily recognizable as such. They protest the funerals of many dead soldiers, and even attempted to protest Jerry Falwell’s funeral. All they are is a bunch of agitators plain and simple. I’ve never heard of them setting up any charities, thrift stores, or soup kitchens. All they do is annoy the hell out of anyone with eyes and ears.

  • pagansister

    Their kind of “love” would have been right at home in Nazi Germany! They probably would have been at the train stations to help load the box cars with the Jews and others not considered humans. They would have proudly worn the uniforms of the SS. Since there are still hate groups here (KKK etc). perhaps they have already joined those groups. Certainly sounds like they have the same “values” as the KKK and others!

  • Frederick A. Arend

    Although many people belief Christianity began about 36 AD Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, that is to say: he is the beginnig and the end. It was therefore, Jesus that Adam and Eve were speaking to in the garden. The mission of Jesus was to bring the lost sheep of the tribe of Isreal back to the one true fold. Christianity, therefore came first.

  • cknuck

    pagan I don’t know anything about these people but to equate them to Nazis is a little too far I would expect. I have not followed their exploits and I cannot imagine why they would show up at a funeral bur they do seem a little irrational for this day and age.

  • pagansister

    cknuck: They most certainly are a LOT irrational for this day and age. My comparing them to Hitler’s followers was because their behavior reminds me of what I believe happened during that time. Obviously Hitler’s followers didn’t hide behind Christianity…only their false believe of white superiority. This groups acts from total hate, under the umbrella of considering themselves Christian! How does anyone show up at a family’s time of grief…in this case a soldier who happened to be gay….and demonstrate total hatred for the man who died serving this country? No, they are not a “little” irrational.
    FA Arend: Are you saying that this group is doing the right thing because they are Christian? How do they bring anyone into any fold (like the lost sheep of Israel) by spewing hatred?

  • Nate W

    I agree with Tom on this one. While Heretic is right that it’s the responsibility of reasonable religious folk to try to influence the less reasonable among us, for the few that are as far out on the fringes as Phelps and his crowd (which seems to be made up mostly of his own family, some of the lowest cretins alive in this country today), some of the lowest cretins alive in this country today), not even internal influence is going to work, because the only people who are really “insiders” to them are other people within their own tiny sect. They wouldn’t consider me a Christian any more than I consider them Christians, and there’s not a chance in the world they’d give any special consideration to the words of a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” like me.
    While I value religious freedom and freedom of speech, I’m afraid to say that the only way to stop people like this is to pray that they end up breaking some law and get stopped by the government, maybe even locked up where they can’t hurt anyone else or tarnish the reputation of reasonable religious people ever again. These people aren’t even well-meaning but misguided fundamentalists; they’re hateful bigots who thrive on openly declaring their message of hate to anyone and everyone who doesn’t want to, and shouldn’t have to, listen to it.

  • cknuck

    Nate I know that the word fundamentalist is associated with some religious fraction that had a particular practice and I hope I’m not totally wrong but I believe these people do the word fundamentalist a disservice in that they are fundamentally wrong. I don’t know where they get their doctrine from but it is definitely not Christian, i mean who thanks God for someone’s death a someone they don’t even know, or who speaks for God and says that He hates America? It’s just weird to me I’m so busy and I’m trying to follow the news but I missed this group’s activities.

  • Heretic_for_Christ

    To be clear, when I spoke of rational people of faith marginalizing the fanatics among them, I didn’t mean showing the fanatics the error of their ways–that cannot be done, because fanatics, by definition, do not and cannot think rationally. What I meant was delimiting their influence by showing others how deadly dangerous the fanatics are. There will always be fanatics, but the goal is that they should be universally recognized as a pathological aberration rather than a group of unusually fervent and devout believers.

  • Henrietta22

    PS, your nazi comment was appropriate. The posters they carried in front of the Jewish Synagogue about the Jews and the Gay was exactly as the Hitler bunch ascribed to. If you cut into a funeral procession in cars with your car you can be ticketed for lack of respect or inattention to driving. So far you can be a complete idiot with a sign saying anything you want, shouting anything you want, no matter how hateful it is and that it may cause hateful actions by some other idiot. If we could only interest someone in government to conclude that hate crimes are committed by hateful words we would be on our way to stop all of the Hate going on our streets, parks, and corners of American towns and cities.

  • Henrietta22

    HfC, The Great Neck H.S. Community did what you just mentioned by rational reaction to the Westboro Church from Kansas. The Students had a chance to learn by the wrong actions of the Westboro Church. The five adults and two children didn’t have a chance to upset these teens. They lost!! This would be a good pattern for other Schools to follow when they know the Haters are coming.

  • nnmns

    I don’t know the specific details of the case, or a lot about law, so I can’t say whether the court was right or wrong but I’ll assume it was right about the law. And as I’ve said before freedom of speech is the most important right we have. If we have it we can fight for our other rights in the marketplace of ideas.
    Phelps and his bunch are fighting in the marketplace of ideas to scrape up more of the scum of the earth like themselves. Most people, I’m confident, see them for what they are. Phelps wins when he finds a few more radical gay haters.
    Now you who say god hates homosexuality, few or I hope none of you are like Phelps but you encourage people to be like Phelps when you say that. It’s a strong statement to say something emotionally powerful like “God” hates a thing; it makes some people think it’s ok, maybe great, for them to hate it and some will then act on that. That is the way the world works.

  • Heretic_for_Christ

    Wonderful report, Henrietta! Yes, that is exactly what is needed, but on an ongoing basis across the nation and the world.

  • Henrietta22

    Thanks, Heretic for Christ.

  • pagansister

    Yes, Henrietta…more folks should respond as those folks in Great Neck HS did. We can only hope others do. Unfortunately this zealous group needs A LOT of responses like that example…

  • jestrfyl

    Might as well overturn the judgement. It would have been “blood from a turnip” anyway. I agree, it is a good lesson on the cost and joys of citizenship. But you have to really scratch your head when it comes to supporting these turnip heads.

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